I posted this article last summer. I'm re-posting as it's always a good idea to remember the *key* muscles that are important to our mobility and injury prevention.
When it comes to fitness, there isn’t necessarily one mode of exercise that is better than another. If done properly, just about any workout can be great. You are really the variable that changes. Personal styles and preferences dictate (more or less) the fitness regime to which you gravitate.
That said, there are a few muscles that need more love than others – and, surprise, surprise, they’re not just the mirror muscles. All of this really plays into functional fitness. In a nutshell, functional fitness is keeping your body in the best shape possible to perform everyday activities. I once had a crazy-strong 40-year-old client who threw his back out picking up his toddler daughter. The leg presses he did day in and day out certainly helped a few muscles in his legs, but did nothing for his back. Physically his legs were fit, but functionally, he was not.
Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you avoid a particular muscle. But if you’re pinched for time and want to make sure you’re taking care of your body, here are the “worker muscles” that will help keep the “mirror muscles” in decent shape.
The Muscles That Matter
1. Gluteus Maximus (a.k.a. your butt)
- Why is it important? The glutes are not just the biggest muscle in the body, but also the biggest antigravity muscle in the body. They get us up, down and all around. The glutes also help to stabilize the torso of your body.
- If you work your glute max: Chances are you’re also going to work your quadriceps (front of thigh), and possibly your hamstrings (back of the thigh).
- Exercises that work the glute max: Squats, supine bridge, lunges* to name a few.
- The stronger you make this muscle the easier you’ll be able to: climb stairs, run around, get up and down quickly from the floor to chase your kids.
2. Gluteus Medius: (a.k.a. the sides of your butt, right around your hips)
- Why is it important? This smaller, but closely-related muscle to the glute max helps support the hips. It has a trickle-down effect on other parts of the body when it’s weak – particularly the knees.
- If you work your glute med: Chances are you’ll help prevent knee injuries or knee discomfort that could be related to weakness in this muscle.
- Exercises that work the glute med: Dirty dog*, side leg lifts*, single leg supine bridge*, etc.
3. Latissimus Dorsi: (a.k.a. lats)
- Why is it important? This large muscle extends along the entire side of your back down to your pelvis. This muscle plays a huge role in your body’s ability to maintain good posture.
- If you work your lats: Chances are you’ll also work the bicep muscles.
- Exercises that work the lats: Lat pulldown, bent-over row*, Superman back extensions*
EXERCISE DEFINITIONS ARE BELOW.
Dirty Dog: This is a great exercise that works the gluteus medius, the obliques (sides of the abs), and transverse abdominals (deep abdominal muscle). Resting on your hands and knees – both about hip-width apart, lift one leg off the floor in a bent-knee position, rotating the hip upward. Hold for two counts, and return knee to the floor. Remember to hold in your abdominals and keep your back straight. Repeat 12-15 times each side.
Side Leg Lift: Begin by lying on your left side, left knee bent and legs stacked on each other. Use your hand to support your head. Slowly lift your leg up, keeping toes pointed forward, not up. One leg lift should take about five seconds before slowly returning back to the starting position. Repeat 12-15 times each side.
Single Leg Supine Bridge: Begin by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground about hip-width apart. Cross your left ankle over the top of your right leg, above the knee. Squeezing through your bottom, push your hips up until your knees are in line with your hips. If you feel comfortable, drive your hips up higher until your shoulders are in line with your knees. **Put the weight on your shoulders, not your neck.** Draw you belly button into your spine and hold for five seconds.
Bent Over Row: Using a set of dumbbells, or barbell, stand with your feet hip-width apart and draw in your abdominals, particularly through the pelvic area. With a slight bend in your knees, bend your body forward about 45 degrees. Keep your back straight and don’t let your shoulders round forward. Row the weights toward your body while pulling your shoulder blades together. Release weights and repeat 15 – 18 times.
Superman Back Extensions: Lying on your back with your arms extended out at a 45 degree angle and legs extended fully (just like Superman), reach out and up keeping your nose pointed down to the ground. This is a great exercise to strengthen healthy back. Hold 3 sets for 15-20 seconds.